Bukoba — FOR many decades Kagera Region was perceived as a banana and plantain country, the land of coffee. The land of plenty. It is also identified as one of the regions favoured by early contact with European missionaries.
The others are the Kilimanjaro and Mbeya regions. Consequently, Kagera had an early start ahead of most Tanzania-Mainland regions in terms of education. In 1967, it had an average adult literacy rate of 40 per cent - with only Dar es Salaam, Kilimanjaro and Ruvuma doing better.
The agriculture sector has consistently been dominant in the Kagera regional economy. The sector engages about 90 per cent of the region's economically active population in the production of food and cash crops. Agriculture contributes most of the region's cash income, mainly from coffee, cotton and tea.
All seven districts in Bukoba, Biharamulo, Muleba, Karagwe, Ngara, Kyerwa and Misenyi have been directed to set up by-laws in controlling the destructive Banana Xanthomonas Wilt (BXW), also known as Banana Bacterial Wilt (BBW). The situation had caused panic among farmers and residents in the region who depend on banana as their main staple and cash crop. Seven districts in Kagera Region have confirmed to have been hit by the disease.
Almost 90 per cent of the entire crop is at risk of destruction. Hope is now on the horizon. Experts at the Maruku Agricultural Research Institute (ARI) have launched a programme for orange fleshed sweet potatoes following extensive laboratory experiments.
The Progamme Co-ordinator, Mr Cypridion Mushongi, said emphasis was on Participatory Market Chain Approach (PMCA) to enable the farmers produce orange fleshed sweet potatoes and to have reliable markets for the crop.
The farmers had already established two farmer contact groups -one in Muleba and another in Misenyi districts. Oneof the farmers, Mr Rajab Chautundu, who is also the Chairman of Muungano group from Kasindaga village in Muleba District said they started with 12 members while to date the members increased to 67 including 34 women. "We established the group in August, last year. In the first season we cultivated 2.5 acreas and pocketed 840,000/-.
We have now expanded the acreage to five acres and hope to get over 2m/-," he said. The Kagera Regional Commissioner (RC) Fabian Massawe has assured residents in the region that there were sufficient food reserves, urging them to plant fast maturing crops including maize, millet, sweet potatoes and cassava.
He also challenged the residents to start production of sweet potatoes on commercial basis. Sweet potatoes could help African farmers cope with climate change." Whilst other staples can suffer from drought and other problems of climate change, sweet potatoes do not."
The root crop is already one of the most widely consumed staple foods on the continent. He noted that production of food crops increased from 1,946,938 tonnes during 2005 to 2,837,515 tonnes during 2010, equivalent to 45 per cent increase.
Production of cash crops also increased from 58,120 tons to 124,746 tons, equivalent to 114 per cent. Mr Massawe said maize production increased from 218,996 metric tons during 2007/2008 to 840,987 metric tonnes during 2010/2011 and banana production increased from 621,708 metric tons to 2,316,509 metric tonnes. The orange-flesh sweet potatoes are exceedingly rich in beta-carotene.
The purple-flesh varieties are outstanding sources of anthocyanins, especially peonidins and cyanidins. Both types of sweet potatoes are rich in unique phytonutrients, including polysaccharide-related molecules called batatins and batatosides.
Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of vitamin A (in the form of beta-carotene). They are also a very good source of vitamin C and manganese. In addition, sweet potatoes are a good source of copper, dietary fibre, niacin, vitamin B5 and potassium.
Sweet potatoes also include storage proteins called sporamins that have unique antioxidant properties. Sweet potatoes are rich in Vitamins A, C, B6 and B5. They are also rich in minerals, manganese, tryptophan, potassium, fibre and copper.
Sweet potatoes are native to Central America and are one of the oldest vegetables known to man. They have been consumed since prehistoric times as evidenced by sweet potato relics dating back 10,000 years that have been discovered in Peruvian caves.
Recent research has shown that extracts from sweet potatoes can significantly increase blood levels of adiponectin in persons with type 2 diabetes. Adiponectin is a protein hormone produced by our fat cells and it serves as an important modifier of insulin metabolism.